For those who are passionate about the field of marriage and family therapy, it can be important to explore all options available to you in regards to how you can further your education and expand upon your skills to open up more career opportunities and help others in new ways. One option to look at is obtaining a PhD or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy.
To become a licensed marriage and family therapist, a person should only need to obtain approximately 60 graduate units. However, many students and professionals choose to move forward by taking the time to earn their PhD or doctorate for a number of both professional and personal reasons. While this means that PhD students spend more time on their education than masters students do, PhD and doctorate students get the opportunity to learn and become an expert in their field.
Why is Marriage and Family Therapy Important?
Studies have repeatedly shown that Marriage and Family therapy is effective in both the short and long term for treating relationship issues, serious mental health disorders, and substance abuse in individuals, families, and couples. The reason for its effectiveness partially stems from the fact that marriage and family therapy is strengths-based, solution-focused, specific, and goal-oriented with an end in mind. Marriage and family therapists are extensively trained and licensed to be able to identify, diagnose, and treat mental health disorders. Some of the complex issues that marriage and family therapy can address includes:
- Marital issues such as domestic abuse and infidelity
- Childhood trauma and the way it expresses in adulthood
- Adolescent drug abuse
- Family conflict
- Schizophrenia, depression, and other mental health disorders
The presence of a marriage and family therapists within a family or an individual’s life can help improve relationship dynamics or daily functioning significantly. Statistics show that almost 90% of clients reported an improvement to their emotional health after treatment.
In order for an MFT to address the complex issues involved in their work, a rigorous education is involved and licensure requires at minimum a master’s degree. For those who want to have a deeper understanding of certain theories and systems that will help them in their practice, or go into a supervisory or educational/research role, they may wish to pursue a doctoral degree or PhD, which will be discussed here.
Why pursue a PhD and Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy?
Pursuing a PhD and/or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy is a big decision that isn’t for everyone. However, if it’s right for you, here are some of the reasons someone might want to go after a MFT PhD or Doctoral degree:
- A doctorate opens more doors for diverse career opportunities than a master’s degree. For example, someone with a PhD might find themselves more likely to become a university professor, if they so choose. In clinical settings, those with a PhD may have a higher opportunity for promotions to directorial or supervisory positions.
- Obtaining a PhD allows someone to educate future marriage and family therapists. A PhD also gives one the chance to research and explore interests within the field, as well as apply certain, less common, branches of the field into their practice.
- Because a PhD or doctorate makes it more likely for someone to receive promotions, obtaining this degree also highly increases the chances of making significantly more money than they would with a master’s degree. For example, the median annual income for a marriage and family therapist in 2021 was $49,880 per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, the median income for a professor in 2021 was $79,640 per the BLS. While you may be able to become a professor with a master’s degree and receive promotions in other areas, it’s more likely with a PhD.
- PhDs allow for more specific focus within each individual’s program. Someone might study medical family therapy, for example. PhD candidates might also have a passion for military families specifically, or any number of variations of family systems.
- Those who pursue a PhD will very likely become better therapists, if they decide to stay with that career instead of going into education, as they will simply have a deeper clinical understanding of theory to apply to their practice.
What You’ll Learn in a MFT PhD and Doctoral Program
Basically it will involve 60 semester units of standard curriculum plus some electives, here are some examples of electives, and learning all of this will teach you xyz Here is what you may learn based on your specialization:
- Advanced clinical methods for research and analysis as well as how to apply said knowledge to either your therapeutic practice or the field of education.
- Leadership skills including how to promote an inclusive culture in the workplace.
- Professional development as both a practitioner and a leader in the MFT arena.
- How to approach specific family and individual systems from a clinical perspective.
What Are Accredited PhD and Doctoral MFT Programs?
Accreditation is one of the most important features you can research when looking into what school you want to attend. The reason for this is that accreditation ensures that your university has met certain standards of quality set by professionals in the field. To obtain accreditation status, the school would have undergone multiple years of this quality assessment. However, not all accreditation is the same, and knowing the difference will help you make important decisions when deciding between schools.
Types of MFT Accreditations
There are two types of MFT accreditations: regional vs national. Additionally, there are two main accrediting organizations that are the most well known: COAMFTE (The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education) and CACREP (The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs).
Regional vs National Accreditation
A regional accreditation is considered the highest form of accreditation that a university can receive. It is the most widely recognized form of accreditation, and gives students the most opportunities. For example, it allows students to transfer between regional and nationally accredited schools, while the same is not necessarily true the other way around. That being said, nationally accredited schools are the less expensive option. They may also be a good option for some students because they have lower admissions standards than regionally accredited schools
What Will You Learn in a MFT PhD and Doctoral Program?
When you pursue a marriage and family therapy PhD or doctoral program, you will find that it is more specialized and specific than a master’s program, and more targeted to what you want to study. The main goal of PhD and doctoral programs is to provide education for more intensive, in-depth, and advanced skills by teaching research methodology and theory to prepare students to become even professional, prepared, ethical, and responsible marriage and family therapists who are knowledgeable at the clinical level.
Length of Programs
Typically, the length of time to complete a PhD in marriage and family therapy is about 4-6 years and 60 credits. Conversely, the length of time to complete a doctoral degree is 3-5 years and about 48 credits. Many schools, such as Antioch University offer their MFT PhD program primarily online, with an in-person residency. Others, like Eastern University also offer MFT online doctorate programs with in-person residencies as well.
Part of the program will commonly include about 1,000 hours of an internship. That being said, if you are already a therapist with a master’s degree, you may only be required to complete 500 hours, but the exact requirements vary from school-to-school.
The standard curriculum for a MFT PhD and doctoral degree is a bit harder to define than a master’s program, because much of it involves primarily working on the dissertation and internship. Even the specific courses that you might take are influenced by the specializations that you will choose to participate in, as the course-load tends to be very elective-heavy.
That being said, here is an example of the standard curriculum laid out by Brigham Young University’s MFT Doctoral program. Note that this curriculum may vary between schools, but all will meet the standards of education established by COAMFTE accreditation.
- Advanced Theory of Marital and Family Therapy
- Advanced Clinical Specialization of of Marital and Family Therapy
- Family Therapy for Children and Adolescents
- Supervision in Marriage and Family Therapy
- Statistical Methods for Research
- Advanced Statistical Methods
- Research Seminar in Marriage and Family Therapy
- Intermediate Practicum in MFT
- Advanced Practicum in MFT
- Clinical Internship
- Doctoral Dissertation
Specializations and Concentrations
NorthCentral University, a COAMFTE-accredited university, demonstrates examples of the specializations that may be available to PhD students through their own MFT PhD program. Because COAMFTE ensures consistency in regards to quality assurance across schools, you will likely be able to expect similar specialization options across other universities throughout the United States. These specializations include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Child and Adolescent Therapy – This specialization is intended to prepare you to assist children in need through therapeutic interventions as well as engage in research projects to assess complex family systems and processes to improve your practice.
- Systemic Leadership – This specialization is intended to prepare you to become a leader in a variety of settings, such as within nonprofits and public organizations. By taking part in this specialization, you will learn how to improve company culture through ethical decision making as well as how to integrate marriage and family therapy into the organization. This specialization will also teach you how to work in an administrative role in the higher education space by learning the effect of marriage and family therapy on public health policies.
- Therapy with Military Families – This specialization is intended to educate you on the challenges faced by the ever-increasing number of families that are impacted by military service. Despite this need, there are only a few universities with the MFT therapy with military families specialization, Northwestern being one of them. This specialization addresses a number of complex issues that impact individuals in the military and their families, such as trauma, deployment, and substance abuse.
- Medical Family Therapy – This specialization is intended to educate you on a systems approach to conducting psychotherapy with families and their loved one who is experiencing an illness. This is an important specialization as it takes a look at the unique systemic interaction between the family, the individual, and the healthcare providers that are in contact with the family on a frequent basis. This specialization will prepare you to become a researcher and clinician who can more than adequately work with individuals and families who are facing the difficulties that come with acute illness.
- Couple Therapy -This specialization is intended to give you clinical level expertise in how to assist couples who are experiencing serious issues such as interpersonal violence and infidelity. This important specialization looks at this complex issue in depth.
- Education and Supervision – This specialization is intended for the next generation of leaders in the world of marriage and family therapy. Those who take this specialization will learn about their identity in regards to their professional development, their ethical responsibility as a supervisor, how to assess the adequacy and competency of their trainees, and more. This specialization may involve the use of technology to facilitate some learning activities.
- General Family Therapy – This specialization is a broader option for those who want to pursue higher education in the world of marriage and family therapy and increase their skills without narrowing themselves to anything too specific. This specialization involves developing research skills, collaboration, clinical training, and other helpful educational experiences. Everything you will learn within this specialization is meant to help you in whichever career you pursue upon exiting, whether that be within a therapeutic practice, leadership role, or educational role.
- Culture, Diversity, and Social Justice in a Global Context – This specialization is intended to educate you on culturally sensitive care so that you may serve organizations with a lens of diversity and inclusion. You will learn how to promote a culturally sensitive work environment, and will explore global social injustice issues. This specialization will teach you how to analyze systems that perpetuate oppression, and as a result, you will emerge with the skills needed to develop treatment plans for a diverse populace.
Entrance Requirements to Enroll in a PhD and Doctoral MFT Program
Receiving a PhD or doctorate degree is considered one of the highest academic achievements you can obtain. Naturally, one can expect a rigorous and long process to earn such a title. However, in order to get into the program in the first place, there are requirements to the application process that you must first undergo in order to be accepted. It’s important to note that, while a bachelor’s degree is needed, you don’t necessarily need to have your master’s degree to apply for a PhD at all schools. However, you may find it beneficial to have obtained a master’s degree first, as it may make the application process go smoother. Additionally, it could reduce the number of hours that you have to spend at the end of your program. However, either way, this is what is expected from you when applying for a PhD or doctoral program.
- Transcripts (GPA) – You will want to have an overall GPA of 3.0. Some schools may also request your major GPA, which is the GPA that counts only the classes that were taken directly for your major. You will want your GPA for this to be at least 3.5.
- Academic Preparation – This is one example as to why having prepared with a master’s degree before applying for a PhD might be a good idea to demonstrate that you are serious. Programs want to see that you are serious about your field and have previously taken advanced classes.
- GRE – The GRE is a generalized exam that lets schools know if students are prepared academically for graduate-level work. This requirement is not always necessary, but if you are applying to a school that has this requirement, you will want to be prepared. However, more and more schools are eliminating this requirement (although less so for graduate programs). Even so, there are still some schools with an MFT PhD and doctorate that have no GRE requirement.
- Resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV) – PhD and doctoral programs want to see what you have accomplished academically and career-wise. For those who have not necessarily received their master’s degree, this can be one way that they can demonstrate that they have relevant experience or interest in their field and that they are serious enough to move forward into a PhD program.
- Personal Statement or Essay – This requirement allows the program to get to know you a little more as an individual in terms of your interests in the program and what you’re looking to get out of an academic career, as well as your experiences in the past. The prompts may differ from school to school, but in general, it will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your passion for the subject for which you are applying.
- Letters of Recommendation – Requiring these letters lets the program know from others who you are and how seriously you will take the program. It’s important to ask for these letters well in advance before they are due.
- Interview – This might be one of the last steps before admissions into the program. You will meet with the faculty of the program, and will want to have prepared what you want to research, and how the program will help you get there. You will also have the opportunity to ask questions to the panel. If you get the chance, ask an advisor to hold mock interviews for practice.
How Can You Find Online and In-Person PhD and Doctoral MFT Programs?
There are many factors to consider when looking for a PhD and doctoral MFT program. When you are taking such a big leap to further your education, you want to make sure that you are looking at your options from a multitude of angles. Some of the factors you may want to consider could be:
- Cost of tuition – While this may feel overwhelming, there are many financial aid options available to explore.
- In state vs out of state schools – Your preferred school may be in a different state. While it could be a great option, something to consider is a potential higher cost of tuition for out-of-state students.
- Online vs In-person courses – While online courses offer some flexibility, it’s important to remember that you will have to complete part of your education (such as your internship) in-person.
- Accreditation type – There are pros and cons to the different kinds of accreditations, but COAMFTE offers more benefits and guarantees a higher level of quality for your education.
Below are some examples of both online and in-person accredited PhD and doctorate degree MFT Programs:
- Florida State University: Doctor of Philosophy, Marriage and Family Therapy
- Cost per unit: $446
- University of Minnesota: PhD in Couple and Family Therapy Specialization
- Cost per unit: $538
- Eastern University: PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy
- Cost per unit: $954
- Oregon State University: PhD in Counseling
- Cost per unit: $590
Are There Scholarships or Grants to Make a PhD and Doctoral MFT Program More Affordable?
Yes, there are scholarships for PhD and doctoral MFT program candidates to assist with tuition. There are also federal grants and loans available, as well as grants potentially available through your workplace you may be able to obtain.
The first and most important program to become familiar with is the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This application is free and is available to anyone. It should be filled out each academic year that you are attending school and will provide you with information about any grants or loans that you may qualify for, which you can then obtain through your school. If you aren’t yet ready to fill out the application, you can use their aid estimator to get a free estimate on about how much you might be able to receive once you do fill out the application.
The PhD Project may be another excellent resource where you can apply for scholarships. This website compiles a list of scholarships for PhD candidates specifically, especially those in marginalized groups.
Here are some other resources that may provide information and financial resources in order for you to be able to afford your PhD and doctoral MFT program:
Besides the FAFSA, here are some other resources where one can apply for scholarships to be able to afford their MFT program:
- Big Future
- Professional Associations
- Sallie Mae’s Graduate School Scholarship Search
- Scholarship America
What Are the Benefits to a PhD and Doctoral MFT Degree Program?
If you have determined that this educational path is right for you, there are numerous benefits coming your way. By going this route, you will not only be expanding your mind, you will be improving yourself as a therapist, a leader, and a critical thinker. Not only that, but you will be opening yourself up to more career and research opportunities, financial benefits, and promotional opportunities than you may have previously been able to. You will likely benefit your community with your knowledge, as marriage and family therapy is evidence-based and proven to be helpful to those who need it the most.
A List of PhD and Doctoral Marriage and Family Therapy ProgramsThe following list includes all PhD, Doctoral, and EdS degrees that are associated with Marriage and Family Therapy.
|Name||City||State||Degree Level||Accreditation||GRE Required?||Full Program Name||URL|
|Alliant International University - Irvine||Irvine||CA||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||PsyD in Marital and Family Therapy||Learn More|
|Loma Linda University||Loma Linda||CA||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||Doctor of Marital and Family Therapy||Learn More|
|Loma Linda University||Loma Linda||CA||Doctoral||COAMFTE||Yes||Systems, Families, and Couples (PhD)||Learn More|
|Northcentral University||San Diego||CA||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||Doctor of philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy||Learn More|
|Florida State University||Tallahassee||FL||Doctoral||COAMFTE||Yes||Doctor of Philosophy, Marriage and Family Therapy||Learn More|
|Nova Southeastern University||Fort Lauderdale||FL||Doctoral||COAMFTE||Yes||Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology||Learn More|
|University of Georgia (PhD)||Athens||GA||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy||Learn More|
|Chaminade University of Honolulu||Honolulu||HI||Doctoral||WASC||N/A||Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy Program||Learn More|
|University of Iowa (PhD)||Iowa City||IA||Doctoral||COAMFTE||Yes||PhD in Couple and Family Therapy||Learn More|
|Adler University||Chicago||IL||Doctoral||COAMFTE||Yes||Ph.D. in Couple and Family Therapy||Learn More|
|Kansas State University (PhD)||Manhattan||KS||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||Doctorate in Couple and Family Therapy||Learn More|
|University of Louisiana at Monroe (PhD)||Monroe||LA||Doctoral||COAMFTE||Yes||Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy||Learn More|
|Michigan State University (PhD)||East Lansing||MI||Doctoral||COAMFTE||Yes||Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Counselor Education||Learn More|
|University of Minnesota (PhD)||St. Paul||MN||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||Ph.D. in Couple & Family Therapy||Learn More|
|Saint Louis University (PhD)||Saint Louis||MO||Doctoral||COAMFTE||Yes||PhD in Medical Family Therapy Program||Learn More|
|East Carolina University (PhD)||Greenville||NC||Doctoral||COAMFTE||Yes||PhD in Marriage Family Therapy Program||Learn More|
|Antioch University New England (PhD)||Keene||NH||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||PhD in Couple & Family Therapy||Learn More|
|Syracuse University (PhD)||Syracuse||NY||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||Marriage & Family Therapy Ph.D.||Learn More|
|Falk College||Syracuse||NY||Doctoral||COAMFTE||Yes||Marriage & Family Therapy Ph.D.||Learn More|
|Ohio State University (PhD)||Columbus||OH||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||PhD in Human Development and Family Science||Learn More|
|University of South Carolina, College of Education||Columbia||SC||Ed.S.||CACREP||No||Ed.S. in Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling||Learn More|
|Texas Tech University (PhD)||Lubbock||TX||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||Couple, Marriage, and Family Therapy Ph.D.||Learn More|
|Texas Wesleyan University (PhD)||Fort Worth||TX||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||PH.D. IN MARRIAGE & FAMILY THERAPY||Learn More|
|Texas Woman's University (PhD)||Denton||TX||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||Ph.D. in Marriage & Family Therapy||Learn More|
|Brigham Young University (PhD)||Provo||UT||Doctoral||COAMFTE||Yes||Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Marriage and Family Therapy.||Learn More|
|Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University - Blacksburg (PhD)||Blacksburg||VA||Doctoral||COAMFTE||No||Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy Concentration||Learn More|
|University of Wyoming||Laramie||WY||Ph.D.||CACREP||No||Ph.D. in Counselong Education and Supervision||Learn More|